It was several years ago now that the suggestion came from my parish branch of the Union of Catholic Mothers that we have a May procession and devotion in honour of Our Lady. Older members of the parish reflected that such an event had not taken place since the 1960s and that it had gradually dwindled as clergy and laity became unenthusiastic about this public act of witness and prayer. Such devotions had been seen as obsolete in the wake of the “spirit of Vatican II”.
It was decided that for the first year this devotion would be low key but we agreed to give it a go. Remarkably about 30 people turned up on that initial occasion. Since then the attendance has grown and it has become a real focus for many of our younger families and is now seen as a major event in the parish’s calendar.
When I first spoke to some other clergy about our endeavours many poured scorn on it as “folk religion” and felt that we were reintroducing something that was outmoded and archaic. But for my parish the May procession is an attractive event and many parishioners now bring non-Catholic family and friends (the high tea afterwards may also be part of the draw). So what some may dismiss as sentimental has actually become evangelistic.
Looking through the blogosphere and speaking with my fellow priests it seems that our parish procession is not in isolation. Many parishes have reintroduced this devotion and this May saw some very impressive efforts as our lady was carried through high streets and city centres as an act of witness. I was fortunate to also take part in another procession later in the month that involved processing through local streets around a suburban church. People stopped and watched as we passed by and cars pulled in to make room for us. It certainly reminded the local population that the Church was alive and kicking.
In my parish the procession has brought new confidence and has reignited interest in more traditional devotions. After a few successful May processions the parish council suggested having a Corpus Christi procession, and this has also proved to be popular, attracting those beyond the boundaries of our small rural parish.
As Catholics we need to be inventive about evangelisation but we can also look to forms of devotion from the past that we have abandoned. Many of these have the capacity to speak to our own generation in a fresh way.